Declan Rix ”THE DR” Cheltenham Champion Hurdle Preview

The 2011 Champion Hurdle already has a classy look about it with the likes of Binocular, Hurricane Fly, Menorah and Peddlers Cross all to the fore in betting.
All four entrants are high class horses with the potential to keep on getting better. The four have age on their side meaning eclipsing Champion Hurdle greats like Hattons Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq, all three time winners, may not be beyond them. A tough feat, however. Binocular is one step ahead after his breath taking 2010 performance. Nicky Henderson’s star hurdler will have to be at the top of his game to take this year’s renewal with a classier field looking set to line-up.

Where to start with this year’s field, last years winner is as good a place as any, Binocular. The J.P McManus owned seven-year-old finally delivered when scooting away for a three and a half length victory in last years race. Tony McCoy has always thought highly of the French son of Enrique and BBC’s sport personality of the year 2010 “couldn’t believe he was beaten” in the 2009 running, when just touched off in third. McCoy always felt he was a quality horse, but, he is very much something of an enigma in my opinion. He disappointed when turned over at short odds behind Peddlers Cross on his seasonal debut. On the plus side he jumped well and it was his first run in some time. Tony McCoy was also easy on him when beaten which is another plus.
I’m not really sure what to make of last years champion. He’ll be closer to Peddlers Cross than when they met at Newbury, but, at 9-2 doesn’t offer great value in a race that looks hotter than last years running. On the plus side his trainer is a master of peaking his runners at the festival so it’s not all doom and gloom.

Ireland currently holds this years Champion Hurdle favorite with Hurricane Fly. The Willie Mullins trained horse had to miss most of last season with injury, but, his one appearance saw him claim the Grade One Rabobank Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown festival. This year he has simply looked amazing in taking two Grade Ones without being fully extended. Thus far into the season he deserves to be favorite. The likelihood of better ground at the festival will also aid his high cruising speed, slick jumping and devastating turn of foot. The fly in the ointment may well be his lack of a run around the unique course that is Cheltenham. The unusual camber and stiff finish will be a first for the son of Montjeu, but, his shear ability means the above are only small concerns. The fact he has won over further, further numbs my concern. Really quick ground may also pose a threat, but, either way, Hurricane Fly is a serious threat to Binocular’s crown.

Your outright fourth favorite for Tuesday’s main race is the Donald McCain trained Peddlers Cross. The ex Irish recruit remains unbeaten in seven starts including two Grade One races, one of which was at last years festival. This season the son of Oscar has got even stronger as he showed when winning the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newbury. In the process he disposed of last year’s Champion Hurdle winner, Binocular, and the fifth horse, Starluck. This win showed him to be a genuine Champion Hurdle contender. Even his trainer had to concede this saying “We came here not knowing if we had a Champion Hurdle horse, but now we know we do. Everything he does scares me to death. He’s stronger than last season and does seem to have got quicker. I’m sure the other horses will improve, but so will we”. Quite a bold statement from McCain you have to agree. Of the top four mentioned in the introduction, Peddlers Cross certainly represents the value at 13-2. Like Hurricane Fly, Peddlers Cross is a serious contender.

Current joint second favorite, Menorah, is starting to fulfill his potential. Last year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle winner is unbeaten this season winning the Greatwood Hurdle and the International Hurdle, both of which were run at Cheltenham. The two races have also been used as good Champion Hurdle trials in the past. There is no doubt the son of King’s Theatre has improved, but, in my opinion he still falls a little short of the above three mentioned. The reasoning for this, simply, he hasn’t the same level of form. All the horses Menorah has beaten are all four and five year olds. I just feel he needs to step it up further and in the words of a dragon, “I’m out”.

The rest of the contenders may all be in the same boat, needing to improve. Strictly on the form book, Dunguib has a bit to find with Menorah on last years Supreme Novice Hurdle. There are pros and cons, however. On the plus side he seemed a little unlucky when finishing third in last years Supreme. The early speed wasn’t its usual frenetic pace meaning it suited the pace stalkers, Menorah. The negative is Menorah has youth on his side. Dunguib is now eight meaning vast amounts of improvement are unlikely.

A horse that does have time on his side is Oscar Whiskey. The son of Oscar only has four lengths to find with Menorah on their Supreme Novice Hurdle run. Nicky Henderson’s charge was very inexperienced entering that race only having the two runs over hurdles. His inexperienced showed as his jumping was novicey. The more experience connections get into him the better and at 12-1 does represent a little bit of value.

Of the rest Khyber Kim looks a little overpriced considering last years Champion Hurdle second. Connections report him to be over his career niggling problems so the 14-1 about him may turn out to be a little generous. Overturn is of serious each-way interest (20-1) given his front running style. This years field may be on the small side meaning he could well get his own way up front. The one drawback is the fact that Jason McGuire has been quite open in saying Peddlers Cross is the best horse he has ever sat on. Starluck at 25-1 is very much overpriced, but, the Cheltenham hill is a major worry. This horse is all about speed. No doubt he’ll be travelling well coming to two out, but, others will finish stronger. The quicker the ground, the better, but, opposable.
For every race I’ll give what’s known as my “crazy bet”. The best horse at odds of 33-1 or greater. For the Champion Hurdle, the Willie Mullins trained Thousand Stars gets the nod.

One thing is for sure, this year’s race looks to be a higher caliber contest than the 2010 running. A number of horses appeal, but, the price must be factored in. Menorah simply isn’t for me and the 9-2 available looks very skinny. At the prices I’d much rather side with Dunguib or Oscar Whiskey with preference for the latter mentioned. Binocular can be a bit quirky for me and the 9-2 on offer again seems a little skinny. He was put well in his place by Peddlers Cross and although he may well finish closer, Peddlers Cross looks a better value bet. At 14-1 a bet on Khyber Kim instead of Binocular would tickle my fancy, but, the Twiston Davies horse needs to step up in a better race. For me, the two class horses are Hurricane Fly and Peddlers Cross. It’s very tough to split them! The two mile trip looks tailor made for Hurricane Fly, but, Peddlers Cross may well be the best horse he has faced. With Peddlers Cross being three points bigger he has to get the nod especially with a pre Champion Hurdle run likely. Meaning his price may contract even further. Oscar Whiskey looks to be the best each-way alternative especially if underfoot conditions were soft.

Champion Hurdle Betting Advice:
1pt win Peddlers Cross @13-2
0.25pts each-way Oscar Whiskey @12-1
“Crazy Bet” Thousand Stars @50-1


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